Photo of the Week – July 25, 2013

I just got home from a week-long family vacation to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  It was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the prairies here in Nebraska, but it’s good to be home again.  Since my week was all about mountains, I guess I’ll just share my vacation photos with you…  I’ll get back to discussing prairies next week!

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I appreciate the woodland areas of the mountains, but always feel a little closed in when I'm in them.  I like to see the sky...

I appreciate the woodland areas of the mountains, but always feel a little closed in when I’m in them. I really like to see the sky…

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We rented a cabin south of Idaho Springs, Colorado for our vacation week.  The highlight of the cabin was the beautiful stream that flowed nearby.

We rented a cabin south of Idaho Springs, Colorado for our vacation week. The highlight of the cabin was the beautiful stream that flowed nearby.

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After a day of short hiking to acclimate to the altitude, we took a longer hike on the Arapaho Pass trail near Nederland, Colorado.  The wildflowers in the meadows were fantastic, and made a prairie ecologist feel at home.

After giving ourselves a day to adjust to the altitude, we took a long hike on the Arapaho Pass Trail near Nederland, Colorado. The wildflowers in the meadows were fantastic, and made a prairie ecologist feel at home.

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I know the plant species in my prairies really well, and can often identify at least 50-75% of the plants I see in other prairies in the central U.S.  However, in the sub-alpine and alpine meadows of the Rockies, I'm lucky to guess the genus correctly...  For example, I know this red flower is a Castilleja species (Indian paintbrush) but don't know which species it is.

I know the plant species in my prairies really well, and can often identify at least 50-75% of the plants I see in other prairies in the central U.S. However, in the sub-alpine and alpine meadows of the Rockies, I’m lucky to guess the genus correctly… For example, I know this red flower is a Castilleja species (Indian paintbrush) but don’t know which species it is.

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Above treeline on the Arapaho Pass trail there were some very cold, but very pretty streams winding through the sparse rocky landscape.

Above treeline on the Arapaho Pass trail there were some very cold, but very pretty streams winding through the sparse rocky landscape.

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My son John hikes the trail toward Arapaho Pass.

My son John hikes the trail toward Arapaho Pass.

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My daughter Anna had to hold on to her hat when we finally reached the top of the Pass.  The wind coming across the Continental Divide was enough to knock us over.

My daughter Anna had to hold on to her hat when we finally reached the top of the Pass. The wind coming across the Continental Divide was enough to knock us over.  (Official elevation = 11,907 ft)

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One morning, I took a short steep hike to the top of a nearby ridge to catch the morning light.

One morning, I took a short steep hike to the top of a nearby ridge to catch the morning light.  I needed to get out of the trees and up into the sunshine…

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At the top of the ridge, there were several least chipmunks running around among the rocks.  I sat and watched them for a little while and managed to get a few photos as they sat in the sunshine to eat.

At the top of the ridge, there were several least chipmunks running around among the rocks. I sat and watched them for a little while and managed to get a few photos as they sat in the sunshine to eat.

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We drove up to the top of the 14,000 foot Mount Evans one afternoon.  This photo shows the aptly named Lake Abyss below.

We drove up to the top of the 14,000 foot Mount Evans one afternoon. This photo shows the aptly named Lake Abyss below.

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On the lower slopes of Mount Evans, we saw a group of bighorn sheep grazing in a meadow.

On the lower slopes of Mount Evans, we saw a group of shaggy bighorn sheep grazing in a meadow.

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On the way back from the top of Mount Evans, we stopped at Summit Lake and hiked a little way up the steep trail toward Mount Spalding.

On the way back from the top of Mount Evans, we stopped at Summit Lake and hiked a little way up the steep trail toward Mount Spalding.

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From the trail to Mount Spalding, we had numerous spectacular views of the Chicago Lakes below.

From the trail to Mount Spalding, we had numerous spectacular views of the Chicago Lakes below.

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On our last hike of the trip, we took a one hour climb to the top of Chief Mountain to enjoy the panoramic views from the top.

On our last hike of the trip, we took a one hour climb up Chief Mountain to enjoy the panoramic views from the top.

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As someone who spends a lot of time admiring the toughness of prairie plants and animals, I could easily appreciate the ability of species to eke out a living among the rocks at high altitude.

As someone who spends a lot of time admiring the toughness of prairie plants and animals, I could easily appreciate the ability of species to eke out a living among the rocks at high altitude.  (Chief Mountain)

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Though our cabin was nestled among the trees on the side of a mountain, we did have a nice open view to the north - something I was very glad for.  It was a great week, but it's really nice to be down in the prairies again.

Though our cabin was nestled among the trees on the side of a mountain, we did have a nice open view of the sky to the north – something I was very glad for. It was a great week, but it’s really nice to be down in the prairies again.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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14 Responses to Photo of the Week – July 25, 2013

  1. timupham says:

    Bighorn sheep are excellent swimmers. For fording mountain streams.

  2. anastaciast says:

    Your first photo looks exactly like the woods around a lake up in the Black Hils. I was surprised to find that the loam there was very thin. And I agree with you about the claustrophobia! I had that in Yellowstone. As far as identifying the plants, I have a book for that, and I can’t remember the name! :( But it’s something like Wildflowers of the Mountains/Alpines. You might be able to search for it. It’s a good book and slim, so it does not add alot of weight to your pack.

  3. Suzanne T. says:

    What a pretty photo set, Chris! Thank you for sharing it. And I’m with you re: tall trees – show me some big sky!

  4. Paul Brewer says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris . . . great photos of some nice country. Did you get to any areas that had seen fire recently? The resilence of nature has been reassuring to me during my 35 years as a wildlife biologist and ecologist, but when things do go drastically wrong – – – it also makes me realize just how hard we are pushing on some systems and communities, no matter what the location. Looking forward to more post-fire pictures from the Niobrara!!

  5. Stew Magnuson says:

    Who would want to leave the prairie for some place with a bunch of trees and giant rocks in the way? I bet you couldn’t even see more than a mile!

  6. Kody Unstad says:

    We went to Breckenridge this summer, looks like you had a pretty similar vacation to us!

  7. Eric Hoff says:

    Chris, I can’t tell you how much your photos make me miss my mountains! I like the prairie, but I love my mountains. I’m headed there in a few weeks to climb 14’ers with some friends…. Maybe we’ll do Mt. Evans (on foot). Hope you enjoyed the trip.

  8. James McGee says:

    The vegetation of Nebraska may have been very similar to the vegetation on top of the mountain a mere 12,000 years ago.
    James

  9. Sue Kagarise says:

    Your pictures are beautiful. I can tell you and your family live the life you love! You are very fortunate.

  10. Misi Ballard says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your Colorado pictures! While this is my home and I love it, I also greatly enjoy your prairie pics & stories.

  11. Pingback: Photo Of The Week – June 20, 2014 | The Prairie Ecologist

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